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Eating healthy is vital to seniors’ well-being

MSU Extension Service

May is Older Americans Month…

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The phrase “you are what you eat” may be a cliche, but nothing is truer nutritionally for adults who have reached their 65th birthday.

Pamela Redwine, a Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in Yalobusha County, said a good diet provides the energy seniors need to be at their most productive.

“Good nutritional management in later years provides stamina and a positive outlook to handle the mental challenges and emotional ups and downs of everyday life. It also reduces risk for life-changing diseases including diabetes, heart disease and cancer,” Redwine said. “A healthy diet helps seniors look and feel their best and gives them a chance for a higher quality of life, and perhaps a longer one.”

Extension health specialist David Buys said fats provide energy, but it is necessary to monitor which kinds of fat are eaten. Foods with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthier and can reduce the risk of heart disease as long as they are not overconsumed.

“Monounsaturated fats include canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil and safflower oil, and they are found in avocados and peanut butter,” Buys said. “Polyunsaturated fats include corn oil, soybean oil and flaxseed oil, and they are also found in fatty fish and walnuts.”

Oils, shortening, butter and margarine are types of fats. Mayonnaise, salad dressings and sour typically high in fat. While some fats are beneficial, certain types of fats are to be limited, namely saturated and trans fats.

“Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, unlike trans fats and saturated fats, which are usually solid at room temperature,” Buys said.

Saturated fats are found in red meat, milk products such as butter, and palm and coconut oils. Grain-based and dairy desserts, regular cheese and pizza are common sources of saturated fat.

“Trans fats are typically processed and are found in stick margarine and vegetable shortening,” Buys said. “They are used in store-bought baked goods and fried foods at some fast-food restaurants.”

Along with fat intake, seniors should monitor their weight regularly. Significant weight gain comes with risks, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and other life-limiting conditions. Older adults who are already overweight should consider controlled weight loss  programs under the supervision of a health care provider. 

Report any unintentional weight loss to a health care provider, as this may indicate a greater problem.

“Weight matters,” Buys said. “We often hear that the U.S. is experiencing an obesity epidemic, and we all need to lose weight. That’s not always the case, especially for older adults. Seniors need to talk with their health care provider about any major changes in weight loss or gain.”           

A well-managed diet can also mitigate two common mobility problems that come with aging: arthritis and osteoporosis. Calcium plays a primary role in keeping bones healthy and preventing bones from becoming brittle. 

“Older adults have higher calcium needs. To help maintain bone mass, calcium recommendations increase by 20 percent,” Redwine said. “For both men and women over age 50, the adequate intake level is 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. If possible, you should also do weight-bearing exercise, which helps keep the bones stronger. Get enough vitamin D, which helps the body use calcium. Following a healthful eating plan and maintaining a healthy weight reduce strain on arthritic joints.”

Eating a healthy diet does not have to mean cutting out all foods a person enjoys. Substitution is a good approach for seniors to practice when they still want to enjoy their favorite meals, Redwine said.

“Choose lean meat, such as lean beef, veal, pork and skinless poultry,” she said. “Loin and round cuts of meat have less fat. Trim visible fat from meat and poultry. Lean meat isn’t fat-free; it just has less fat.”

Released: May 27, 2016
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